15 Dec 2013

Sunken navy ship grave looted

11:17 am on 15 December 2013

The wreck of an Australian WWII navy ship which may still contain the remains of the hundreds of sailors aboard when it sank is being looted by commercial salvagers.

HMAS Perth sank in the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java. It is the last resting place of as many as 355 Australian sailors who went down with the vessel after it was struck by multiple torpedoes, but has never been protected as an official war grave.

Since at least September, scuba divers have made official reports of large-scale damage to the wreck from a massive floating crane equipped with a salvage claw, the ABC reports.

Several salvage barges have been spotted in the area, and one was photographed in October dredging up the carcass of a Dutch submarine - the O-16 - which sank off the coast of Malaysia.

An official report was lodged with the Department of Defence in October detailing the damage. The report, seen by the ABC, said there was a strong possibility that human remains still exist within sections of the ship and that they risk being disturbed.

It warned action must be urgently taken to prevent further mass salvaging.

Other reports tell of the use of explosives by salvagers to break up the ship and make it easier to dredge.

In September, an Indonesian-based diver described structural damage from what appeared to be explosives, and said metal that formed the vessel's superstructure was missing.

The last surviving officer of HMAS Perth, Gavin Campbell, said the salvaging operations were appalling. The 92-year-old said the remains of the crew are still there and the wreck should be treated as a war grave.